The relationships of empathy, moral identity and cynicism with consumers' ethical beliefs: the mediating role of moral disengagement
This study examines the relationships of empathy, moral identity and cynicism with the following dimensions of consumer ethics: the passive dimension (passively benefiting at the expense of the seller), the active/legal dimension (benefiting from questionable but legal actions), the 'no harm, no foul' dimension (actions that do not harm anyone directly but are considered unethical by some) and the 'doing-good'/recycling dimension (pro-social actions). A survey of six hundred Australian consumers revealed that both empathy and moral identity were related to negative beliefs regarding the passive and the active/legal dimensions of consumer ethics and were related to positive beliefs regarding the 'doing-good'/recycling dimension. Cynicism was related to positive beliefs regarding the passive dimension of consumer ethics and was related to negative beliefs regarding the 'doing-good'/recycling dimension. The role of moral disengagement in mediating these relationships was examined. Empathy and moral identity were only indirectly negatively related to the 'no harm, no foul' dimension of consumer ethics through moral disengagement, while cynicism was indirectly positively related to this dimension through moral disengagement. Theoretical and practical implications of these findings are discussed.